Though the supporting cast are flawed, Helen McCrory is a force to be reckoned with, and Patrick Harbinson's plot is deeply elaborate.
With an opening title sequence focusing on three of the most controversial leaders in history, you can understand how Fearless found its name. It’s definitely an apt choice; the utterly brazen nature of Helen McCrory’s protagonist means the only suitable alternative would have been “Emma Banville vs. The World”, and that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
ITV takes a progressive step by shrouding their latest run-of-the-mill murder drama in a thick political smog much like the one we live in today. In 2017, you can’t go 24 hours without hearing the bragging rights of Donald Trump, Theresa May’s latest robotic declaration or the political propaganda of Jeremy Corbyn. Fearless takes place in our world, warts and all, and the spectres of history’s biggest mistakes haunt proceedings at every turn.
Helen McCrory plays our guiding light through the chaos. Deemed an “incongruous leftie” by an unpleasant ex-government minister, Emma Banville is a dazzling human rights lawyer with questionable taste in purple leather jackets. She too is haunted by the past, with flashbacks to a time of political activism, the adoption of her baby and the death of a partner all hinted at but never quite explored. In trying to make Banville fleshed out, she soon becomes weighed down by excessive half-explained backstory. Fearless would do better for cutting one of these strings; the dying father strand probably makes the least impact, but does allows Banville to hide out in a hospital car park for dodgy liaisons with terrorists. McCrory is stunning throughout, refusing to allow the weight of Banville’s backstory weigh her down; she surely creates one of the year’s standout protagonists.
Other casting is more problematic. Michael Gambon makes a fleeting but inspired appearance as a shady ex-cabinet minister with a snarling temper. He spars in Banville in just one albeit memorable scene, showing a dark side that’ll terrify fans of sweet old Dumbledore. BAFTA-winning actress Wunmi Mosaku is the most disserved by the script, with her character DCS Olivia Greenwood flatly characterised as a gritty secret service agent who takes sharp moral u-turns whenever the plot requires. American import Robin Weigert (Jessica Jones) is certainly menacing as CIA operative Heather Myles, but lacks the three dimensions that makes Banville so inspired. The men are even flatter – you’d be excused for forgetting Emma’s legal assistant Dominic even existed, despite Jonathan Forbes earning second billing on the memorable opening sequence. Comedian John Bishop is bizarrely miscast as Banville’s sweet-natured boyfriend, who feels as out of place as Ed Sheeran in Westeros. Even the writers don’t know what to do with him, sending him off on a photography expedition halfway through the series without so much as a goodbye.
But ultimately there’s little room for other characters when McCrory consumes the spotlight. Though creator Patrick Harbinson’s story arc is complex, Banville’s mission is cleverly cyclical. Starting at its most human with a fight to acquit an innocent father of a murder he didn’t commit, Fearless steps up to deal with the politics of the 2003 Iraq War, the Special Relationship and even the Syrian refugee crisis, before grounding itself again for Banville’s final emotive stand-off in Episode 6. Ultimately, the real murderer isn’t the villain of the story, but is driven to extreme actions by Machiavellian politics that feel scarily real in today’s world.
Fearless aired on ITV. All six parts are available to catch-up on via the ITV Hub.